Friday, August 11, 2006

proportionality is a slippery thing

From Le Monde Diplomatique:

Attacks targeting towns, villages and civilian infrastructure have forced some 600,000 people out of their homes. Under international law such actions count as war crimes. The 1977 Additional Protocol to the Geneva Convention clearly defines the principle of proportionality: “An attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated”. Who could ever imagine that the stated objective, to rescue two soldiers, justifies the death and destruction caused by the Israeli bombardment? Is a Lebanese life is worth less than an Israeli life?
This lack of (objective) proportionality reminds me of the conclusion of the recent NYT op-ed by Daniel Gilbert, He Who Cast the First Stone Probably Didn’t:

Neither [party in the experiment to deliver retaliatory, yet equal blows] realized that the escalation was the natural byproduct of a neurological quirk that causes the pain we receive to seem more painful than the pain we produce, so we usually give more pain than we have received.

Research teaches us that our reasons and our pains are more palpable, more obvious and real, than are the reasons and pains of others. This leads to the escalation of mutual harm, to the illusion that others are solely responsible for it and to the belief that our actions are justifiable responses to theirs.

None of this is to deny the roles that hatred, intolerance, avarice and deceit play in human conflict. It is simply to say that basic principles of human psychology are important ingredients in this miserable stew. Until we learn to stop trusting everything our brains tell us about others — and to start trusting others themselves — there will continue to be tears and recriminations in the wayback.

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